Increasing numbers of people are making the choice to strike out on their own. With the right mindset and expectations, it can prove a win-win for the individuals choosing this new career path and the organisations that hire them.
The workplace is going through drastic change. Despite the uncertainties that lay ahead, many smart city professionals are making the choice to go independent with a different set expectations and criteria for success. Their profiles are varied and include business development consultants, software and hardware developers and project managers.
This trend is not specific to the smart city industry. The latest survey from management consultancy Eden McCallum and London Business School in Europe and North America show that as many as 25 to 35 per cent of employees freelance for a portion of their revenue and 53 per cent of employees say they would consider making the switch if given the option.
While the popular conception of the gig economy tends to point at lower-skilled and lower-compensated workers, such as minicab drivers or delivery workers, the survey reveals that 59 per cent of the gig economy in developed countries are knowledge workers.
In terms of seniority, those working at director- and senior management-levels are more likely to go freelance at some point of their career, depending on their level of expertise and networks. Indeed, the older you are, the more likely you are to be measured on output-based metrics versus long office hours.
On the other side of the spectrum, millennials are also keen on independent status as they do not yet highly rate security and stability. They are also less demanding of a clear work-life division. Finally, women also tend to be more attracted to working independently because of the flexibility offered and the reduction in pay gap compared to men when freelancing.
Surprisingly, this research shows that about 75 per cent of independent contractors are also the main or sole household wage earner. In fact, most of them are meeting their revenue target and a majority are earning more or at least the same as when they were employed.
Interestingly, the vast majority of independent contractors (76 per cent) in this Upwork survey 2019 among American respondents suggest that they are happier working this way compared to their previous employee status.
Indeed, on a professional level, independent contractors tend to find their work more meaningful and rewarding and this need tends to increase with age and experience
There are many reasons for this. On a personal level, independent contractors have more control over their time and the freedom and flexibility to work when and from where they want. In this sense, their work life balance usually gets a significant boost with the ability to allocate more time to leisure and personal interests.
Kurrant Talent spoke to Arnaud Boulay, a French, Singapore-based professional with experience of being an independent contractor in the area of IoT and connectivity, who said being independent better fulfilled his quest for purpose when reaching his forties.
He added: “I have also learnt that customer-centricity and having a good lawyer are absolutely key to succeeding as an independent contractor.
“At the end, despite digital marketing becoming key, it is still all about people and relationships, whether partners, employees or customers.”
Indeed, on a professional level, independent contractors tend to find their work more meaningful and rewarding and this need tends to increase with age and experience. Being more engaged, they also feel that they are delivering higher outcomes compared to when they were employed.
The Upwork survey reveals that in the smart city consultancy space, 91 per cent of freelancers consider that their work provides their clients better value for money and 75 per cent said their recommendations are more likely to be implemented.
Being constantly at risk of losing their revenue, independent contractors also tend to put in more effort and research which, in a way, compensates for lesser internal validation. They also do not miss the internal politics, constant re-organisation and burdensome processes from their previous companies. They value being free to focus on client needs, intellectual challenges and quality of delivery instead of internal concerns.
Freelancers gain more freedom and control and take on more meaningful and rewarding projects, while companies benefit from highly skilled workers, with limited risk and more flexibility
In the same way that home working – even for a few days per week – is becoming a win-win trend in which employees achieve a better work-life balance and employers can reduce outlay on office rental and business travel, independent contracting can benefit both parties. Freelancers gain more freedom and control and take on more meaningful and rewarding projects, while companies benefit from highly skilled workers, with limited risk and more flexibility.
Smaller companies, especially in Asia and the USA, would sometimes consider hiring an independent contractor as business development manager or country manager for a small subsidiary, especially when there is no legal entity registered in that country. In this case, the role is similar to a full-time corporate position and involves long-term strategic work which is critical to their business.
Independent contractors typically have decades of experience in their field coupled with a laser-focus on client projects without the distractions and biases of the typical workplace. The emotional detachment and external eye help get things done more efficiently and objectively. From our experience, independent contractors can also blend easily with internal teams and bring different inputs and perspectives to a project.
Of course, there are potential downsides of which to be aware: there is more uncertainty and instability built into the independent career path; there are no employee benefits; no global brand to rely on; and little career progression. There are also often large swings in both work and income. Therefore, it is definitely not for everyone, especially if security and stability are valued as most important. Freelancing also requires solid expertise – if niche even better – and a loyal network which can be difficult to truly assess.
According to Upwork, when asked how long they intend to work as independent contractors, two-thirds (68 per cent) planned to remain independent for more than three years. What happens next often remains an open question. The reality is probably that more and more professionals will move back and forth between independent and corporate work status.
Nadia Chen is talent engagement director at Kurrant Talent
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